Rick's Space: Breaking up with Hungry Man

A Pound Of Food




When we were young and wild, most of us probably never envisioned the Food Police would reel us in. I was thinking about this after ingesting the usual oatmeal and fruit for breakfast.

It’s a shame, because I’m a bacon and eggs guy all the way, or at least I used to be.

I actually like some of the stuff that I’m mandated to eat now, like almond butter and yogurt. For decades, I subjected my body to all conceivable forms of gastronomical mortal sin, including bacon-flavored sausage.

When I was a little kid, my mom worked two nights in addition to her day job as a nurse. She drove over to O’Connor’s Funeral Home on Lenox Avenue in Brooklyn and fixed up the hair on dead ladies so they would look nice at their wakes.

My little joke when she came home would be, “So, what did Mrs. Mullen have to say?”

Mom felt guilty leaving me unattended, so she set up one of those new TV trays by the living room couch and served the latest sensation: a frozen TV dinner. I was completely enamored with it. There I would be, snug in my little cocoon with clearly defined compartments of each food group. Even though I was home alone, there would be no bogymen for Little Rick as long as I had my cranberry apple dessert for comfort . . . even if my mom was playing with dead people.

The concept of frozen dinners came to the fore during World War II as an increasing number of mothers were put to work for the war effort. In the early 1950s, the Swanson Brothers parlayed their knowledge of frozen meals and began selling them to airplane companies. The first TV dinners sold 5000 units in 1953; just one year later, the company sold 10 million units. They tried other flavors, but as we true connoisseurs know, turkey was in a class by itself. There is of course, meatloaf, and Salisbury steak, and hamburger steak, sometimes called chopped steak, also offered. I challenge anyone to tell the difference between them. The only thing I’m pretty sure about is there ain’t no meat in them-there steaks.

QUIZ: What do you add to Salisbury steak to differentiate it from meatloaf? (See answer below.)

A Turkey Hungry Man has three “carved” slices of meat, and it is “mostly white” we are assured.

The meat sits on a bed of stuffing with plenty of good gravy, mashed potatoes, mixed diced veggies, and of course dessert. (Make sure you pull the aluminum foil covering off 10 minutes before you remove the tray from the oven to make it crispy!)

To set the record straight, the meat is “mostly white” like (wink) McNuggets are, and you would have to be “mostly brain dead” to think there is anything carved. And that ain’t no giblet floating in that gravy, George.

You don’t have to be a professional chef to prepare one, but you learn quickly if you cook the thing too long the gravy boils away, and if you take it out too soon, the stuffing is cold. My little chef’s secret is to put a pat of butter on the veggies and butter and milk on the potatoes to make them creamy. A little cooking sherry in the gravy is a nice touch (even then I knew).

The end came suddenly and unexpectedly. The Food Police have proclaimed that Hungry Man is off limits to me. It seems that a certain blood test — surely not mine — turned up with a high “Lard” reading. Also expunged from the freezer: Marie Callender’s Pot Pie, which delivers 510 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat, and 720 milligrams of sodium. (“So, what’s the down side?” I asked.)

It wasn’t just the abrupt end of a half-century love affair but the cruelty of the break-up. I came home to an empty freezer, to recycling hell. My guess is they made seagull food with the mostly white meat.

All the monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed corn gluten, sodium acid pyrophosphate, mono and diglycerides with BHT di-alpha-tocopherol, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid ascorbic acid, L-cysteine monohydrochloride fat, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate, just a few of the chemicals listed on the package, are probably waiting for the new artisan pizza rollout.

It sounds bad, but as a bar maid I used to know once said, “I’ve had a lot worse in my mouth.”

She was talking about liquor — I think.

(Re: Quiz — Anyone who told you a tale about the Duke of Salisbury was lying. Take a standard meatloaf recipe and add a package of French onion soup mix and presto!)

rmurphy@indyeastend.com